Aug 07

Cannon Fodder: Draftee or Volunteer

In Brief—A discussion of the author’s experiences and views on whether a mandatory draft of men and women is preferable over an all-volunteer military.

Frying Pan or Fire—

I sat there in my suit and tie talking to a young man who had just received his draft notice. I might as well have been speaking Swahili because the young man was looking at me quizzically as if he had very little idea what I was talking about.

Selective Svc emblemUnlike the others, I was the only one dressed in the attire of the corporate office where I had worked until recently. I knew the Selective Service law backward and forward thanks to the education I had received from the professional draft lawyers at the Los Angeles Free Clinic, but now I was an associate in a law office devoted to the draft and talking to a young man who wanted me to save him from the killing fields of Vietnam.

Until recently, I had worked in the belly of the corporate beast for thirteen years. Rather than searching for a job I would hate, I was highly recommended by my mentors at the Free Clinic to a small law firm specializing in draft and military law. Right place, right time. Suddenly, I was sitting across from a young man who faced military service in Vietnam. I was entering the happiest period of my life, but my client was legitimately afraid for his.

After first speaking to my young clients in corporate-law-speak, I soon realized my approach was wasteful of his and my time, so from then on I spoke in terms clients could understand. Along with that change, bell bottomed trousers and flowered shirts replaced the suit and tie.

After considerable success in the courts and on the seething streets of America, the war ended with America’s defeat and the Selective Service System went out of business as we planned. The country transitioned to an all-volunteer military.

With that change, I weighed the wisdom of the draft versus the all-volunteer military. I began questioning whether the draft was better than the monster that began growing out of the ashes, conservative anger and recrimination that followed in the wake of the lost war.

My thoughts are more relevant than ever with the current move by the Senate to reinstate the draft now that the military has begun accepting women in combat roles. Got to feed that voracious hunger for warm bodies so America can fight its wars.

Middle-and-upper-class parents have or can get the money and possess the knowledge of the system. They will hire a draft lawyer to keep their child out of the military. Others rely on influential cronies who can pull strings to get their child into a safe reserve organization as was the case with George W. Bush. Some flee to other countries like Canada or Sweden rather than becoming cannon fodder for the U.S. military. A few would injure themselves in order to qualify as unacceptable for military service. The truly brave ones like David Harris burned their draft cards and went to prison for their beliefs.

Alternatively, the current all-volunteer military relies on two sources: 1) the patriotic dupes like Pat Tillman who are swayed by government propaganda that they must put their bodies on the line so the investor class will continue to profit from war; 2) the disadvantaged and poor, predominantly minorities, who see military service as a way to earn money. They never think—and are certainly not told by a recruiter— that a roadside bomb might blow them to pieces or rob them of limbs.

As a lawyer with experience in the area and as a realist who has looked at human nature, I have weighed the pros and cons of both sides. Meanwhile, America stands astride the world with a mighty military and the deluded belief that its society is the best of all possible worlds. It will not change. Even as it sinks into irrelevance, it clings to the ways that once worked but no longer do. For me, it comes down to picking the lesser of evils.

The Draft Wins—

In this case, my conclusion is that the lesser evil is the draft. If the draft resumes, the knowledgeable with money will still hire a draft lawyer. The powerful will still rely on influential cronies to keep their sons and daughters from becoming cannon fodder. Some will flee to safe havens…although that’s easier said than done these days. Some will use other means to render themselves unacceptable while the brave ones will go to prison for their beliefs.

With the military owning America and getting billions of dollars from the sychophantic politicians in congress, they will get their warm bodies. Draft boards will be run by individuals who will do everything short of gang-pressing youths to fill the quotas for the month. The military wins whether there’s a draft or not, but at least there’s a chance that a draft will moderate the militarization of America. And the U.S. will still continue to fade into history.

My experience in the military and as a draft lawyer make me a realist and a cynic on this issue. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the subject, but I have given you my conclusion to consider. Let me know your views. I’ll elaborate in my responses.


Skip to comment form

    • Elodie Pritchartt on August 7, 2016 at 16:12

    I think it’s a good idea, if for no other reason, the country (and hopefully Congress) will be far less inclined to go meddling in the affairs of other countries when it means their own children will be the ones fighting.

    It’s probably a good exercise in discipline and personal self-defense, as well. I have a friend from Bulgaria, a tiny slip of a girl, who said that everyone in Bulgaria has to join and train in the military. I imagine her doing military exercises and being adept with an AK47 and I’m a bit awestruck.

      • Don Bay on August 8, 2016 at 09:54

      When you say “it’s a good idea,” I’m assuming you mean a draft is a good idea because it teaches discipline and personal self-defense. I reluctantly think that the draft is better than an all-volunteer military, but not for the reasons you have stated. I favor the draft (with qualifications I will set forth in other replies) simply because it introduces a bit of democracy in an otherwise rigid authoritarian structure.

      Many if not most other countries have a mandatory military service requirement though many exclude females. The young people are required to carry weapons such as the one you refer to. The US, although it is an all-volunteer force at present, offers non-combatant (at least on paper) roles such as administrative and medical. In all other instances, weapons are required. Even in training, weapons are required.

      Discipline is acquired, but personal self-defense is not acquired. Research shows that even if armed (and most aren’t) people freeze in the face of threats. Self-defense is a chimera.

      Your thoughts?

    • Dave Meyers on August 7, 2016 at 17:26

    It never ceases to astound me as to the level of shear ignorance that the U.S. government displays when it comes to our twentieth century wars. Badly planned, badly executed, and based on misplaced notions of democracy for all….or is it oil for all?….I’m not sure.
    But referring back to your Vietnam discussion………those were ugly times to be sure. I was in line to be drafted in 1967 and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why. What were we doing in a far of country? What was the goal? Why were we there in the first place? Why had a few of my old high school friends already been killed?….for what? Even my Ex-Marine Corps father who had served in the South Pacific during the BIG War couldn’t understand it. And, if he could explain it, by God I couldn’t.
    So, I took the easy way out, some might say. Joining a Reserve unit in 1969 and playing Army once month at Ft. MacArthur, on the California coast, where I could sneak off and fly my hang-glider, and then return at the end of the day to sign out.
    It was years later that I realized the irony of that. I was playing while other guys just like me were thousands of miles away dying for some convoluted cause that, to this day, escapes me.

    And, here we are again….snuffing out fine American lives. For what?
    No one of the young soldiers who have come home with divesting life-long injury will ever be able to look back years from now and justify or even explain why they are forever marred…..not one.

    I will say this about the draft, however. I like the way the Israeli’s and some other countries run their ‘Draft”.
    I may not be against a ‘Service to the County Draft’……That is to say, that for perhaps a two year period you are called up to serve the country in some capacity. Maybe it’s military if you so choose, and maybe it’s teaching, of health work, or building, or researching, or care giving, or any number of other positions that help the common good. Unfortunately, I can’t see our government pulling off such an endeavor without drowning in in bureaucratic confusion and wasteful spending. So….let’s just forget that idea.

      • Don Bay on August 8, 2016 at 10:18

      You refer to our military service. Both were similar although I was a draftee and you enlisted in the reserves. If military service was inefficient then, you can imagine how inefficient and wasteful it is now with an all-volunteer military. I must add at this point that the US military hierarchy is opposed to a draft for the expected reasons. Since the US military gets what it wants and more, it is unlikely that America will ever see a draft although females may be required to register.

      You cite Israel’s military as a qualified example of a sorta mandatory service. Since I am only partially familiar with their requirements I will say only that exemptions are given for Orthodox Jews for religious reasons but not to females generally.

      I suggest you check out my solution to an acceptable draft when I respond to Art Ulene. I’ll add that my solution is extremely unlikely to happen in my lifetime if ever.

  1. The only way I can agree that a draft is tenable is with Dave’s idea. If people are called for service and have a choice in the type of service then it’s a good idea. If it’s just picking people to go and fight then I’m totally opposed. The rich and privileged will still find ways to avoid it and the system becomes much more complex.

    Also, while I abhor the wars and militarism of the US, enlisting can actually give people with little opportunity the ability to find work and a career. I know the work is dangerous and brutal, but if there is little option otherwise are we ending this opportunity for them?

    Being one of the privileged all those years ago and fighting to be reclassified as 1A so I could do my duty I understand the call to arms. But that was long ago and the world was a very different place.

    How about just ending war.

      • Don Bay on August 8, 2016 at 10:33

      You and I are pretty much in agreement. I’m one of those people who say, “What if they gave a war and nobody came.” Unrealistic in this world, but we still need to actively oppose war in favor of negotiation.

      Regarding the military being the only way some struggling people can put bread on the table, I contend that until America figures out a way to deal with inequality and provide for everybody, the military service burden will fall disproportionately on the underprivileged.

      Check out Bay’s solution in my response to Art Ulene. Pie in the sky, but I can dream can’t I?

    • Art Ulene on August 8, 2016 at 05:04

    Don…. How do you feel about a draft for “universal service”, with many options for service: teaching at home or abroad… Peace Corps…. Conservation Corps….. or military? Art

      • Don Bay on August 8, 2016 at 10:55

      Universal service, you say? Here’s my wish list.

      If everybody is required to provide Universal Service of some kind, then I would make 4-F status, i.e., exemption for disabling physical or mental reasons the most important category. Next would come Conscientious Objector status, religious or philosophical. That would be followed by the candidate’s free choice of either military service OR non-military service to the country. Non-military service (paid and of specified duration, of course) would include anything that would better society such as teaching, building homes for the homeless, serving in hospitals or hospice centers, etc. Foreign or domestic service would be optional.

      Any suggestions here would be helpful. It’s possible I left something out. Your thoughts?

    • Donna on August 24, 2016 at 05:30

    I agree with Art, Jim, and you that some type of required universal service would be good. Perhaps it could be tied to higher education – if you serve two years of service to your country, you receive free tuition to some type of post secondary school. I don’t think it would hurt youth to experience what the “other world” -( hospitals, social work in the inner city, hospice, etc.) – is like, and they would be two years older and more mature when they began their higher education.
    I live in an area with many LDS men and women who go on a two year mission for their church. In the college classroom, they are more mature,and experienced with other cultures, plus they can speak another language! They are a sharp contrast to the freshmen coming straight out of high school.

Comments have been disabled.